Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Salvation Question

Nick has made a guest post on Devin's blog. It is about Sola Fide or Faith Alone. He focuses on one particular Greek word in scripture that is in some of the key protestant proof texts. I appreciate the work Nick has put into this. I know he has been passionate about this topic for a long time. It is very important. When people ask whether Luther was justified in breaking from the church this issue is front and center. Was Luther's disagreement due to the church going against the clear teaching of scripture or was it the sort of difference of opinion where we need to trust the authority of the church? Catholic apologists most often focus on the question of authority. How do you tell when the church is clearly wrong? That is important because it applies more generally to any question of doctrine. But going the other direction is also important. How could serious Christians who respect the bible so much and agree about almost nothing be wrong about the one thing they all do agree on? That is salvation by faith alone. For me that was a big deal. I knew a lot of protestant pastors and theology scholars. They were very smart guys and they knew their bible well. How could they get it so wrong?

Nick gives some of the answer to that. Not only does he make a pretty good argument that the protestant position is wrong but he shows how deep the errors lie. He does a lot of work where there are some easy shortcuts available. Shortcuts that just involve trusting protestant scholars who should know. If you trust your tradition, and protestants do trust it on this question, then how likely are you to sweat the details? If you do dig and start to find evidence that all the experts are wrong and the data does not support the conclusions they have made, then what happens? You assume you have made an error. You are one guy against centuries of settled doctrine. Are you going to risk being branded a heretic? I can see how very few go there. 

The thing to remember when reading Nick's paper is that the burden of proof is strongly on the protestant side here. They are hanging a ton on these few texts. They use them as interpretive keys. That is they take what they think these texts mean and use them as a framework for interpreting the rest of the bible. There are many passages of scripture that seem to tie good works to salvation in some way. They will conclude all these texts are saying something different than the plain reading would indicate because they are so sure about Sola Fide.

Then there is the matter of breaking with the church. In order to embrace Sola Fide they had to give up their trust in the church. That meant giving up the priesthood, the Eucharist, confession, apostolic succession, etc. Sure they have doctrinal issues with all those things but it was a lot of sour grapes. In order to break from the bishops they needed to create a theology that says bishops are not needed. So they convince themselves they are better off without the sacraments of the church. What is the basis for this? Sola Fide and those same few proof texts. 

The truth is the motivation for this was not purely biblical. There were philosophical, political, and psychological reasons why Luther and many others became convinced Sola Fide was right. But modern protestants really believe the biblical basis for it is solid. It just isn't. I know I was shocked to find that out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Randy!